The private jet Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) said she chartered for her secret trip to Florida in March is not approved to be chartered, the FAA told the Detroit Free Press Monday.
The new problems arose when Whitmer’s chief of staff, Joanne Huls, attempted to explain away the flight Friday by saying a related 501(c)(4) so-called dark money group paid for the flight.
It was determined the cost of the roundtrip was $27,521, and Whitmer personally reimbursed the fund just $855 for her seat. It was not clear how they arrived at either figure.
In a memo that became public, Huls said Whitmer’s office “made a decision to use a chartered flight for this trip” due to security concerns. But it has been reported Whitmer’s office did not notify Florida law enforcement officials of the visit. The trip also came at a time Whitmer was urging Michiganders not to travel to Florida over coronavirus concerns.
“The cost to charter the flight was paid for by the Michigan Transition 2019,” the political nonprofit set up to accept anonymous donations for her inauguration, Huls said.
More from the paper:
Michigan Transition 2019 was incorporated in 2018 under Section 501c4 of the Internal Revenue Code, state records show. Such “social welfare” nonprofit funds are commonly used by state and local officeholders but have been the source of past controversies, notably for former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and for former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, whose NERD (New Energy to Reinvent and Diversify) Fund was the subject of criticism for not disclosing its corporate donors and for paying the salary of a top Snyder aide, Richard Baird.
Elizabeth Isham Cory, a spokeswoman for the FAA, told the Free Press “companies that operate charter flights must have a Part 135 certificate” from the agency.
Air Eagle, LLC, a company owned by three Detroit-area businessmen, “does not have a Part 135 certificate,” according to Cory.
Whitmer’s original story was that her trip was strictly “personal” to visit her ailing father, who owns a property in West Palm Beach.
“I’ve said everything I am going to say about my trip to go check on my father,” Whitmer told a 9&10 News journalist when questions persisted. “It was a quick trip. It was an important family reason for doing it. And I have nothing to add.”
“I showed up when I was needed. I did a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning,” Whitmer said last week.
“When you’re the governor of Michigan, you’re always on the clock, but it does not mean that you’re not also a daughter who shows up when a family member needs her,” she said.
But late Friday, Whitmer’s office claimed her 501(c)(4) organization paid for the flight, which would require an organization-related activity to do so.
Whitmer repeatedly claimed the trip was strictly personal business, which would not allow her to use nonprofit funds for that activity, Michigan Rising Action said after the news broke.
“501(c)(4) groups are social welfare organizations and are not allowed to pay for personal expenses for officials,” the group — itself a 501(c)(4) group — said in a news release.
If Whitmer had a legal justification for using the nonprofit funds for the trip, it would indicate she did other things in Florida besides tend to her father’s alleged needs. The trip occurred in March, the original story broke in April, and the 501(c)(4) acknowledged it as an expense in May.
“Today’s revelations that Whitmer’s non-profit paid for her personal trip to Florida is shady and makes it clear why she tried to hide the trip and cover up who paid,” Tori Sachs, Michigan Rising Action’s former executive director, said Friday.
“Either Whitmer’s Florida trip was for a legitimate 501(c)(4) purpose, in which case the c4 could pay for it, or it was personal, in which case a c4 can’t pay for it. Whitmer’s personal use of her 501(c)(4) account funds must be investigated.”